Joining the Military to Pay for College

Joining the Military to Pay for College

Joining the military is a good way to fund your college education, but there are a lot of options when it comes to deciding how the military can help you meet your higher education goals—from tuition assistance and credit programs, to ROTC and service academies.

Post-9/11 G.I. Bill (

For individuals with no prior military experience and who are not interested in training to be military officers, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which is an updated version of the well-known Montgomery G.I. Bill first passed at the end of World War II, is the most attractive option.  The bill went into effect in 2009, and for those who enroll upon enlistment (and have a high school diploma or its equivalent), the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps will pay 100% of the in-state tuition and fees and related expenses (living stipend and $1000 books/supplies allowance) at an accredited public, four-year institution for an active duty service member or honorably discharged veteran who has served at least three years. Those who serve less than three years can still receive a percentage of benefits, so long as they serve at least 90 continuous days. Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits are also transferable to spouses of individuals who serve at least six years and commit to another four, and to children of individuals whose service exceeds ten years.

The College Fund Programs (

The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps also offer a College Fund Program—also known as a “kicker”—that interested and eligible Post-9/11 GI Bill enrollees can opt into at the start of their service.  The “kicker” is an add-on benefit to the GI Bill, and its up-front costs and later benefits vary depending on the branch of the military, length of service, and other variables.

The Yellow Ribbon Program (

If you take advantage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and you attend a school that participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, you may be eligible for additional benefits that exceed the maximums offered by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, as “Yellow Ribbon” schools contribute additional money to active-duty and veteran student benefits.  This can help offset the additional costs of attending an institution whose tuition and related expenses are higher than the cost of tuition and fees at the public, four-year institutions in your state, or the additional costs of out-of-state tuition.

The Student Loan Repayment Programs (–%2C00.html)

Another option for individuals who are interested in joining the military to pay for college expenses but who have already accrued student loan debt is the Student Loan Repayment Program, offered by the Army, Navy, and Air Force.  The Army and Navy offer up to $65,000 in repayment of prior student loan debt for individuals who enlist without prior military experience, and the Air Force offers up to $10,000 repayment of prior student loan debt.  Years of service spent using loan repayment programs do not count toward years of service required for Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility, however.

Officer Training (ROTC and Service Academies)

ROTC programs for the Army, Navy, and Air Force ( are offered at many colleges and universities.  Though ROTC scholarships are highly competitive, they can provide enough money to cover all of your college expenses, or at least enough to cover some of your expenses.  As an ROTC member, you enroll full-time in school, but included in your regular course of study are military science courses.  You also are required to dress in uniform on campus once a week to participate in training activities.  ROTC members enlist after graduation and receive officer commissions.

The U.S. Military Academies, also known as the U.S. Service Academies (which include the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY []; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD []; the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO []; and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT []), also train commissioned officers and fully pay for their cadets’ education.  Competition to be accepted into any of the U.S. military academies is fierce, and graduates usually make the military their lifelong career.

Credit Programs

The military also offers many opportunities to earn college credits, primarily through testing, but also military training credit transfers.  The CLEP testing series ( and the DSST exam series ( are offered on military bases, and both provide opportunities for individuals to take and pass subject examinations to earn college-equivalent credits.  (The military will also reimburse the costs of taking college entrance exams, along with many other national tests.  See for more information.) The American Council on Education, which establishes the credit equivalencies for the testing series, also evaluates military training and experiences for college credit equivalency.  Both of these credit-equivalency programs can significantly reduce the amount of time and money spent earning your degree if you take advantage of them before or while you are pursuing your degree.

The Community College of the Air Force (

The Air Force also provides its members with access to its own network of educational institutions—the Community College of the Air Force—through which they can earn Associate in Applied Science degrees.